How do you overcome procrastination?
Regardless of what they claim, procrastinating isn’t about being lazy for the majority of individuals. In fact, when we delay, we frequently work very hard for long periods of time right before our deadlines. Working long and hard is the polar opposite of being lazy, so that can’t be it. So, why do we procrastinate, and what can we do about it, more importantly?
Some people claim they procrastinate because they are lazy, as said above. Others think they “work best” under pressure and “perform better” when they postpone. I encourage you to examine these explanations critically and thoughtfully. Almost everyone who claims this is a persistent procrastinator who has yet to accomplish a significant academic job in which they devised a strategy, put it into action, had time to review it, and so on before the deadline. As a result, they are unable to establish a comparison between the conditions in which they perform best. You can’t truly assert that you “perform better” under pressure if you almost always procrastinate and never really tackle your duties systematically.
Others, on the other hand, enjoy the “rush” of finishing something at the last minute and making a deadline. However, they frequently claim this when they aren’t working on that deadline. They claim that this works before or after cramming when they have forgotten about the bad effects of delaying, such as anxiety and tension, weariness, and disappointment from falling short of their own expectations and having to put their lives on hold for periods of time. Not to mention, leaving things till the last minute increases the likelihood that something will go wrong — such as falling sick or having a computer problem — and you will not be able to achieve the necessary grade. So, procrastination can be hard on us and actually increase our chances of failing, but we do it anyway. How come?
Procrastination isn’t just a result of a lack of time management skills; it may also be linked back to deeper, more complicated psychological causes. These dynamics are frequently exacerbated by schools that continually evaluate students, particularly in college, where the pressure for grades is great and a lot is riding on students’ performance.
In actuality, procrastination is frequently used by students to protect themselves. If you postpone, for example, you always have the excuse of “not having enough” time if you fail, thus your self-confidence is never jeopardized. It’s understandable that students would want to avoid obtaining a good score on a paper when there’s so much pressure on them to do well. The majority of our motivations for delaying and avoiding are based on fear and anxiety — fear of failing, of succeeding too well, of losing control, of appearing stupid, of having one’s sense of self or self-concept challenged. We avoid performing labor to avoid being judged on our ability. And, if we happened to succeed, we feel that much “smarter.” So, what can we do to overcome our tendency to procrastinate?
Awareness: The First Step
To conquer procrastination, you must first grasp the REASONS WHY you procrastinate, as well as the role procrastination plays in your life. If you don’t comprehend the basis of the problem, you won’t be able to come up with a viable solution. As with other difficulties, the key to figuring out how to stop procrastinating is awareness and self-knowledge. For many people, understanding how procrastination prevents them from feeling incompetent and remembering this when they are tempted to slip back into old, unproductive postponing behaviors goes a long way toward correcting the problem. For instance, two psychologists, Jane Burka and Lenora Yuen, who have helped many people overcome procrastination, report in their article, “Mind Games Procrastinators Play” (Psychology Today, January 1982), that for many students “understanding the hidden roots of procrastination often seems to weaken them” (p.33). Just knowing our true reasons for procrastinating makes it easier to stop.
Time Management Techniques: One Piece of the Puzzle
Time management skills and tools are essential for overcoming procrastination, but they are insufficient on their own. Furthermore, not all time management techniques are equally effective in combating procrastination. Some time management approaches are effective in combating procrastination, while others can exacerbate the problem. The ones that focus on reducing anxiety and dread while emphasizing the satisfaction and rewards of accomplishing activities are the most effective. Those who are rigid, highlight the importance of work, and raise worry might cause procrastination and so be counterproductive. Making a long list of “to-dos” or scheduling every minute of your day, for example, might increase stress and hence the procrastination. Instead, set reasonable goals (e.g. a manageable list of things to do), break big tasks down, and give yourself flexibility and allot time to things you enjoy as rewards for work completed.
Motivation: Finding Productive Reasons for Engaging in Tasks
It’s vital to stay motivated for PRODUCTIVE REASONS in order to overcome procrastination. I use the term “productive reasons” to refer to motivations for learning and achievement that result in positive, constructive, and rewarding feelings and behaviors. These motives contrast with doing something out of fear of failing, to avoid making your parents upset, to avoid looking stupid, or to “show off” by performing better than others. While these are all valid reasons for doing something — and often very strong ones — they are ineffective because they elicit maladaptive, often negative feelings and actions. If you’re worried about appearing stupid, you’re less likely to ask questions, explore new regions, attempt new approaches, or take the chances necessary to learn new things and achieve new heights. A good way to put positive motives in motion is to set and focus on your goals. Identify and write down your own personal reasons for enrolling in a course and monitor your progress toward your goals using a goal-setting chart. Remember to focus on your reasons and your goals. Other people’s goals for you are not goals at all, but obligations.
Staying Motivated: Be Active to be Engaged
Staying fully involved in your lectures is another strategy for combating procrastination. If you’re a slacker in class, you’re probably not “getting into” the material, which saps your motivation. Furthermore, if you are inactive, you are likely not getting the most out of the course and course materials. Nonsense and perplexity are not entertaining; in fact, they are tedious and aggravating. We don’t want to do tasks that are tedious or frustrating very often.
Summary of Tips for Overcoming Procrastination
Awareness — Reflect on the reasons why you procrastinate, and your habits and thoughts that lead to procrastinating.
Assess — What feelings lead to procrastinating, and how does it make you feel? Are these positive, productive feelings: do you want to change them?
Outlook — Alter your perspective. Looking at a big task in terms of smaller pieces makes it less intimidating. Look for what’s appealing about, or what you want to get out of an assignment beyond just the grade.
Commit — If you feel stuck, start simply by committing to complete a small task, any task, and write it down. Finish it and reward yourself. Write down on your schedule or “to do” list only what you can completely commit to, and if you write it down, follow through no matter what. By doing so you will slowly rebuild trust in yourself that you will really do what you say you will, which so many procrastinators have lost.
Surroundings — When doing school work, choose wisely where and with whom you are working. Repeatedly placing yourself in situations where you don’t get much done — such as “studying” in your bed, at a cafe or with friends — can actually be a kind of procrastination, a method of avoiding work.
Goals — Focus on what you want to do, not what you want to avoid. Think about the productive reasons for doing a task by setting positive, concrete, meaningful learning and achievement goals for yourself.
Be Realistic — Achieving goals and changing habits takes time and effort; don’t sabotage yourself by having unrealistic expectations that you cannot meet.
Self-talk — Notice how you are thinking, and talking to yourself. Talk to yourself in ways that remind you of your goals and replace old, counter-productive habits of self-talk. Instead of saying, “I wish I hadn’t… “ say, “I will …”
Un-schedule — If you feel stuck, you probably won’t use a schedule that is a constant reminder of all that you have to do and is all work and no play. So, make a largely unstructured, flexible schedule in which you slot in only what is necessary. Keep track of any time you spend working toward your goals and reward yourself for it. This can reduce feelings of being overwhelmed and increase satisfaction in what you get done. For more see the book Procrastination by Yuen and Burka.
Swiss Cheese It — Breaking down big tasks into little ones is a good approach. A variation on this is devoting short chunks of time to a big task and doing as much as you can in that time with few expectations about what you will get done. For example, try spending about ten minutes just jotting down ideas that come to mind on the topic of a paper, or skimming over a long reading to get just the main ideas. After doing this several times on a big task, you will have made some progress on it, you’ll have some momentum, you’ll have less work to do to complete the task, and it won’t seem so huge because you’ve punched holes in it (like Swiss cheese). In short, it’ll be easier to complete the task because you’ve gotten started and removed some of the obstacles to finishing.